Grape Ripeness, Flavor and the 2005 CA Vintage
I’ve always envied Dan Berger’s insightful mind. Clearly one of America’s best wine writers, he is also one of the writers willing to address the complex and often controversial subjects. He most often does this via his weekly newsletter, "Vintage Experiences," a must for any serious student of wine or anyone in the wine business.
Dan doesn’t disappoint with his last issue that arrived via email this morning. In the latest issue, Dan asks if vintners will pass their own test during what is turning out to be a challenging 2005 Harvest. To-date, sugar levels in the grapes are unusually low for this time of year. This is due to the relatively low temperatures we’ve seen this summer. September has been unusually cold with only a few days in September rising above 80 degrees.
This is a problem for the generation of vintners in California who have been preaching that high sugar levels and physiological maturity go hand in hand, a theory that underpins many vintners decisions to wait until the grapes are ultra ripe before picking and thereby delivering staggering alcohol levels in their wines along with what many understand as prunny flavors.
Dan however points out that science tells us that flavor maturity comes at a much lower sugar level and that the real reason many vintners wait until the grapes are ultra-ripe is to "ripen-out" any hint of herbal flavors in the wine.
In any case, Dan points out that for that level of ripeness to be achieved this year vintners will probably have to wait until late November to pick. Anyone ever look into the eyes of a vintner or grower whose crop is still hanging on the vine on November 1st? It’s pretty scary. The threat of rain, and with it the potential of complete destruction of the crop, is always there. These vintners have a deer in the headlights look about them. They stare up into the sky. They pray a lot.
Will vintners wait that long to capture their high levels of sugar? Can the sugars even get that height if they choose to wait? Or will they give into the mindset that controlled the CA wine industry for decades and pick at lower sugar levels?
If you are not a subscriber to Vintage Experiences,become one. It’s $58 per year for 48 weekly issues. Dan’s articles and this one in particular are important